This week's Sober Story comes from Nancy, a 62-year-old living in Louisiana, USA.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Nancy: 24 years on October 28 of this year.
Mrs D: What were you like at the end of your drinking days?
Nancy: I was totally miserable. Too scared to quit, but sick of hangovers, disappointing others, hating myself.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Nancy: My (now-ex) husband threatened to leave and take our sons with him.
Mrs D: What was it like when you quit?
Nancy: It was a terrible rollercoaster of emotions. I felt like a turtle without a shell - very vulnerable and very afraid of living life sober. The most difficult thing was knowing that I was almost 40 years old and my only coping skill - drinking - was gone. I had to change my lifestyle completely. I avoided family members who still drank (including my twin sister) and venues that served alcohol (including wedding receptions), and instead structured my days around AA meetings, step work, and counselling.
Mrs D: How did your family all react? What about friends?
Nancy: My (now ex) husband told me that he was falling in love with me all over again. He told me 6 years later he didn't like me sober and asked for a divorce - but I liked me sober so out he went! My best friend and drinking buddy was shocked; she didn't believe I was an alcoholic.
Mrs D: Did you ever relapse?
Nancy: A thousand times before I went to AA, never since - one day at a time.
Mrs D: You described those early days as a rollercoaster... how long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Nancy: Physically, about 6 months. Emotionally, two years. I was crazy in the first year and I still have my journals to prove it! Still very alcoholic in my thinking.
Mrs D: What does that mean?
Nancy: I believed everything I thought, and that feelings were facts. I had a lot of black and white thinking, and a terrible habit of assuming and mind-reading; I was wrong more often than not, which led to a lot of miscommunication. Also very rigid. I had a hard time relaxing and being spontaneous. In other words, once the alcohol was out of the way I started seeing the real problem underneath: ME!
Mrs D: So there was a lot of 'internal' work to be done. What about 'external' work in terms of going out and socialising?
Nancy: Very difficult. I changed the people I hung out with, changed the places I went. I even had to change the type of gifts I bought for people which had centred around around alcohol. But I had ready-made friends and places to go in Alcoholics Anonymous, which made it so much easier.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Nancy: That my own thinking was my biggest problem.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Nancy: My sons loved spending time with their sober mom, and were very proud of me. My kindergartener even took my sobriety chips to "Show and Tell" at school, unbeknownst to me! I also tapped into a tremendous creative energy and began making jewellery, mosaics, taking writing classes. Then I went back and got my Master of Science degree in Counselling Psychology and became a counsellor. I work with addicts and alcoholics and their families and every day is absolutely joyfully filled with seeing people in early sobriety come back to life. And I married a wonderful man who is also sober; he is truly my soulmate.
Mrs D: Wow! What a fantastic turnaround you've had. Could you summarise any main benefits from getting sober?
Nancy: Loving and accepting myself and others, rediscovering God and the beauty of nature. And finding true meaning and purpose in my life through service.
Mrs D: If you could go back in time and change anything, would you?
Nancy: I would go to rehab this time, to give me a faster foundation in the principles of AA and recovery. I refused to go to treatment but did got to 90 meetings in 90 days, which was a wonderful suggestion and started me on the right path.
Mrs D: Do you have any advice or tips for Living Sober members who are in the tough early stages of recovery?
Nancy: Persevere! It gets better and better! Your future is spotless!
Mrs D: That's great advice! Anything else you'd like to share?
Nancy: Every day sober is a blessing. I've become the person I always wanted to be: loving, creative, honest, dependable, enthusiastic about life and delighted to wake up every morning! Today, I can say that I'm genuinely glad to be a recovering alcoholic.